Optimistic Arsenal fans still believe Arsene Wenger will splash the cash on a high-profile striker before the transfer window closes on September 1 - but Theo Walcott proved against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium this afternoon why he deserves to become the Gunners’ first-choice centre-forward.
Wenger handed Walcott an opportunity to impress upfront - dropping Olivier Giroud to the bench in favour of the 26-year-old - and, while he may have failed to score on the day, his mere presence had Chelsea’s John Terry and Gary Cahill worried.
It was Walcott who provided the assist for teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain midway through the first half - just moments after referee Anthony Taylor possibly should have awarded Arsenal a penalty for a foul on the aforementioned Walcott - and that ultimately proved enough to help secure Wenger’s first ever win over a Mourinho-managed team.
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Giroud came on with 25 minutes left to play and was lively - almost scoring within a minute of coming off the bench - but the Frenchman may need to get used to playing second-fiddle to his English teammate.
Arsenal have always been a counter-attacking side under Wenger, but they become less dynamic with Giroud in the team. The 28-year-old can hold up the ball more effectively than Walcott, but it’s worth sacrificing Giroud’s physicality for Walcott’s superior pace.
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Walcott determined to nail down striker role
While there’s no doubt which of the two strikers is better in the air, Walcott managed to showcase his aerial prowess this afternoon by getting to Mesut Ozil’s free-kick ahead of the Chelsea defence and flashing a header on target. Had Thibaut Courtois not been so alert, Walcott would have scored.
If he has been working on that area of his game over the summer, it’s another sign of how determined he is to become Arsenal’s first-choice striker.
Walcott has made no secret of the fact he wants to play as the team’s striker in recent years - and he now seems mature enough to play in that position.
His ability to finish was never in doubt - this is a player who scored 21 goals in all competitions during the 2012-13 campaign - but he needed to become a more intelligent forward before Wenger trusted him in that position.
Today he was making runs to free up space for his teammates - the likes of Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain profited - and that will not have gone unnoticed by Wenger.
Arsenal almost lost Walcott
Ironically, there was a real chance that Walcott could have left the Gunners this summer. At one point, only a couple of months ago, the situation looked touch and go.
But Walcott, who signed a new four-year deal with the Gunners last week, gave Wenger a timely reminder of his qualities in the final weeks of last season - first scoring a hat-trick against West Brom before scoring the opening goal in the 4-0 FA Cup final victory over Aston Villa six days later.
Walcott will no doubt have been desperate to score again today, but he still did enough during the 64 minutes he was on the pitch to earn a place in Wenger’s line-up for next weekend’s Premier League opener against West Brom.
The reception he received from the Arsenal faithful suggests they feel the same.
Benzema isn't available
Had Karim Benzema been available this summer then Wenger would have been mad not to have moved for the Real Madrid striker.
But with the Frenchman staying put at the Bernabeu, a season upfront for Walcott should at least boost Arsenal’s hopes of winning their first Premier League title since 2004.
Arsenal fans: do you believe Theo Walcott deserves a chance to become the Gunners’ first-choice striker? Have your say by leaving a comment in the box below!
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